Tag Archives: Hungarian

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

Fehérlófia

DIRECTED BY: Marcell Jankovics

FEATURING: Voices of György Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabó, Ferenc Szalma, Mari Szemes, Szabolcs Tóth

PLOT: A divine white mare gives birth to a son, the Tree-Shaker, who is destined to destroy three dragons in the Underworld who are holding captive three mythical princesses.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Marcell Jankovics puts the limitless possibilities of animation on display for this mythic tale. Abstraction and form combine to move the story along in a way that would be stylistically impossible with any other medium, all infused with the most vibrant palette I’ve ever seen in a movie. Son of the White Mare‘s epic nature and ancient roots are perfectly represented by the timeless feel of the nonstop delights to the eyes.

COMMENTS: This movie, I’ve been told, has been hovering around the site’s periphery for quite a while now, with us forebearing discussion until we could watch a high-quality, non-YouTube posting of Jankovics’ iconic masterpiece. With the 4K, re-mastered version from Arbelos Film which screened at the tail-end of this year’s Fantasia Festival, that time has come. Some quick research suggests that a disc release has not yet been determined, but considering the three years of work put into the project by a dedicated multi-national team (under the guidance of Marcell Jankovics himself), it’s bound to made available. Some day soon. Like in early 2020. Hopefully.

In the meantime, let me try to regale you with my poor words what Jankovics and his crew put together almost forty years ago. The film begins with a flash, as a pregnant white horse flees across the screen from a horde of nasty, jagged pursuers. Finding protection in the Earth Tree, she bears a human son, an eager boy who grows to become known as “Tree-Shaker.” He is told the story of his father’s downfall and, after finding his brothers (“Stone-Crumbler” and “Iron Temperer”), he looks for the entrance to the Underworld after outsmarting the Seven Colored Gnome by stealing his beard. With his brothers’ help he forges the beard into a mighty weapon that aids him as he seeks to free the kingdom’s princesses trapped in castles, guarded jealously by twisted versions of their former beaus.

It would be next to impossible to describe how magnificent the animation is. Much of its motion defies Euclidean geometry. To get the vibe, I recommend an image search. But even beyond its presentation, its narrative is well worth a mention. The time-tested methods of storytelling—tasks and goals in groups of three; heroes of impossible skill and origins; ultimate good fighting ultimate evil—are all present. This is not surprising; what took me aback (in a good way) was the fusion of this ancient technique with the interwoven warnings against modernity. Of the three multi-headed dragons fought by Tree-Shaker, two are manifestations of modern man: a seven-headed, dozen-gunned tank beast and a truly menacing, twelve-headed, ever-shifting skyscraper monster. Obviously there is a message here, one that slipped passed the well-practiced Communist censors of the day.

If you’ve patiently waited to watch this movie, please continue to do so. The impending release will be of a print that doesn’t look like it has aged at all. I know that I can get very excited about movies that others find ho-hum (or worse); but, for those of you who’ve seen some version of Son of the White Mare, and to those many others who have doubtless heard its praises sung on high, it lives up to whatever expectations of wonderment you could possibly harbor. Whoever gets the task of certifying this gem, I hope they’re up to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The art style is incredible: pastel and clashing colours are everywhere and are used to paint very trippy and beautiful art. The animation is fluid, with shapes morphing into others and back seamlessly – a road becomes a snake, the gap between two faces changes into a goblet – but these must be seen to grant them their full justice.”–Simon Brand, PopOptiq

CAPSULE: RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Milorad Krstic

FEATURING: Voices of Iván Kamarás, Gabriella Hámori, Zalán Makranczi

PLOT: Ruben Brandt is a psychiatrist for a group of skilled art thieves who show their appreciation by stealing thirteen masterpieces in an effort to help their therapist conquer his nightmares.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ruben Brandt, Collector is weird, in a way, but not the way we’re looking for, and not the way you might expect.

COMMENTS: It begins with a heist gone wrong: Mimi (Gabriella Hámori) has been hired to steal a priceless diamond from the Louvre, but gets distracted by a beautiful Egyptian hand-fan halfway through the job. The ensuing chase through downtown Paris with Detective Kowalski (Zalán Makranczi) in pursuit is cleverer and better paced than most anything in modern action films. Dreams pile in references to the classics as Ruben Brandt (Iván Kamarás) copes with ever-worsening nightmares. Mafioso scumbags are dying to break into the art market, and there’s a “Cold War Café” frequented by ex-CIA and KGB spooks. The big-hearted looters assembled by Brandt include a thief with an overeating problem who is also handily (and literally) two-dimensional. The Art-Deco/Cubist world of Ruben Brandt, Collector is nothing short of amazing to look at.

But there is an issue looming over all of this: is this hyper-stylized, incredibly erudite cartoon weird? Every frame is arranged for maximum impact, and the tips-of-the-hat to famous artworks are innumerable. (Well, perhaps not innumerable: the end credits indicate that over fifty pieces are explicitly referenced within the movie, in addition to the ten or so nods to movies ranging from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Rambo: First Blood.) It is an odd and beautiful movie to behold, but the script compromises the atmosphere, making it feel at times as if it’s intended for a child audience. “Humorous” exchanges between the characters and the closing heist sequence are reminiscent of cartoons I’ve watched with my young niece. Still, I was happy to just sit back and soak in the glorious visual feast before me.

This imbalance is forgivable, and also makes perfect sense: Milorad Krstic is first and foremost a painter. By branching out into narrative cinema, he proves he can carry a visual motif for a whole movie. He also has an ear for music, with unlikely rock classics (like Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ “L’il Red Riding Hood”) and novel pop covers (Haley Reinhart’s version of “Oops, I Did It Again” turns it into a cabaret classic) augmenting Collector‘s off-kilter alternate reality. If Krstic ever pairs his work with a compelling script, we’d be certain to have the animated film of the decade on our hands.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an action thriller as surreal as it is familiar.”–Jared Mobarak, Buffalo Vibe (contemporaneous)

345. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000)

Werckmeister harmóniák

“There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

–William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice,” V., 1., 58-63

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz,

PLOT: Soft-spoken János takes care of his uncle, an aging musician and music theorist, in a small Hungarian town. One day a modest circus, featuring only a stuffed whale and a mysterious freak known as “the Prince” as its attractions, comes to town. János is impressed by the majesty of the whale and sneaks in to see it one night, and overhears the Prince declaring “Terror is here!”

Still from Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Whale’s massive dead eye, juxtaposed with tiny humans.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Drunks enact the Solar System; eye of the Whale; the Prince speaks

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Werckmeister Harmonies is a bleak and obliquely allegorical parable in which a Whale and a Prince bring a local apocalypse to a poor but peaceful Hungarian town. A political horror movie that creeps over you slowly, wrapping you in a fog of mysterious dread.

Fan-made trailer for Werckmeister Harmonies

COMMENTS: How many times have you been at a bar at closing Continue reading 345. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000)

CAPSULE: ON BODY AND SOUL (2017)

Teströl és lélekröl 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ildikó Enyedi

FEATURING: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi

PLOT: A slaughterhouse manager and the new quality assurance inspector, a functional autistic savant woman, pursue a relationship after realizing they share the same dream (literally).

Still from On Body and Sould (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “shared dream” conceit, the film’s only truly weird feature, serves little more than as a plot device to bring the unlikely lovers together.

COMMENTS: On Body and Soul begins with intimate footage of two deer tromping through a snowy woods by a lake. The buck tries to nuzzle the doe, but gets little response, as she meanders away searching for a tuft of grass. This opening segues into scenes of unsuspecting cattle at an abattoir being led to the killing floor. We then meet the new temporary meat quality inspector, Maria, a stand-offish but pretty blonde. She soon causes trouble by grading every side of beef a “B,” because they are two to three millimeters fattier than regulations—technically correct, by the book, but also not what financial manager Endre wants to hear. Maria also has great difficulty choosing a place to sit in the cafeteria for lunch, searching out the loneliest corner, and when Endre tries to talk to her, their conversation is awkward and strange. At home at night, Maria arranges salt and pepper shakers on her kitchen counter and recreates the day’s conversations, puzzling out their social significance. She’s definitely not neurotypical.

The true plot is set in motion when, through an absurd contrivance (the theft of bull aphrodisiacs from the slaughterhouse), an outside psychiatrist is brought in, analyzes the workers’ dreams as part of her profiling, and discovers, to her disbelief, that Endre and Maria share the exact same dream night after night, of two deer in a snowy glade. Other than the romantic notion of two souls linked by fate and the thematic connection to the apparently thin line between bodied beasts and soulful people, the happenings in the dream glade don’t intrude on the rest of the story, and are soon laid aside. Instead, Maria, conflicted by feelings for Endre she doesn’t understand, sets out on an often-humorous journey to expand her experience of life beyond the narrow focus of her own mind. She observes lovers spooning at the park as if she were studying mating rituals at a zoo. She tries to understand the appeal of music (eventually finding a single song she likes) before connecting with her own body by discovering the pleasure of lying in the grass while a sprinkler waters her. Simple Endrem, who has a womanizing past, can’t figure this strange woman out, and tries several times to end the burgeoning relationship, despite their uncanny dream connection.

The attraction here is Alexandra Borbély‘s fascinating portrayal of Maria. She makes expressionlessness an art form while portraying a character type who is seldom, if ever, seen on screen—and if so, never in the role of a romantic lead. The philosophical implications never get too deep, and the film may overlong for its slim storyline, but those looking for an offbeat (if not weird) arthouse romance should find this a tasty cup of meat.

The producers of On Body and Soul signed an exclusive contract to stream the film on Netflix, so it won’t be available on home video or other platforms for the foreseeable future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its unwatchably brutal opening sequences are there to stun you, or in the butcher’s sense tenderise you, so that you hardly notice the implausible weirdness of human behaviour in the workplace scenes that follow… Endre and Maria’s affair is at its most romantic when it is at its most eccentric and weird.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)

Hugó, a Víziló

“If you accept a strange story told to you as true,

Then a certain enlightenment comes to you.”

Hugo the Hippo theme “It’s Really True” (as sung by Marie Osmond)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bill Feigenbaum, József Gémes

FEATURING: Voices of , Burl Ives, Ronnie Cox, Robert Morley

PLOT: The Sultan of Zanzibar kidnaps a herd of African hippopotami and relocates them to Arabia to defend his harbor from sharks. After the shark menace is ended and the city prospers, the citizens forget about the hippos, until one day the hungry herds’ excursion to eat local farmers’ crops leads the Sultan’s evil Vizier Aban-Khan to organize a slaughter of the beasts. Only the youngest, Hugo, escapes; he flees to Dar es Salaam and makes friends with the local children, but Aban-Khan continues to hunt him out of pure malice.

Still from Hugo the Hippo (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story is inspired by an actual hippo nicknamed “Hugo”, who ate farmers’ crops before being adopted by the real Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.
  • The film was a Hungarian/U.S. co-production. All of the animation was done on the cheap in Hungary. It was released dubbed into both languages.
  • Hugo the Hippo is co-writer/director Bill Feigenbaum’s only film credit. József Gémes went on to direct many Hungarian animated features.
  • Young Marie and Jimmy Osmond perform most of the songs on the soundtrack, along with two songs by Burl Ives and two numbers by jazz/funk session bands.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to be something from the wild vegetable hallucination montage: the apple samurai? Jorma and Hugo climbing onto the space butterfly and sailing through the fruity cosmos? We selected the Dalí-esque shot of three massive monolith potatoes triangulating and transfixing our heroes with the magical beams that shoot from their literal eyes as our take-home image.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cigarette-smoking shark; cloud massacre; sliced apple ninja

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hugo the Hippo was released to widespread indifference. Contemporary reviewers were bored and strangely dismissive, failing to catch the undercurrent of weirdness here, but a generation of youngsters scarred by the hippopotamus massacre kept Hugo‘s underground legend alive. The combination of kitschy songs, psychedelic animation, bizarre plotting, tone shifts, hallucinatory episodes, and the inimitable Paul Lynde as an evil hippo-hating vizier blend to create a children’s film gone awry in all the most delightful ways.


Short clip from Hugo the Hippo

COMMENTS: We might adopt the lyrics from the opening Continue reading 281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)

CAPSULE: WHITE GOD (2014)

 Fehér isten

DIRECTED BY: Kornél Mundruczó

FEATURING: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér

PLOT: A young girl is separated from her beloved mutt after her father refuses to pay a new tax on mixed breeds; the dog is thrown into the streets of Budapest and becomes the leader of a wild pack that terrorizes the city.

Still from White God (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough. It’s only the bookend opening and closing scenes that really approach the lunatic.

COMMENTS: White God begins with a scene of a young girl pedaling her bicycle through the streets of Budapest, which is depopulated as though in a dream; suddenly, a pack of two-hundred fifty dogs appears from around a corner, loping behind her in slow motion. It’s a startling, half-surreal image, but the movie takes some time to get back to anything approaching its power. Post-credits, we flash back to the beginning of the story to get our narrative bearings: Lili, a young musician just embarking on womanhood, and her mutt Hagen are inseparable pals, but trouble arises when the girl has to spend the summer with her dog-hating father in his Budapest apartment. Hagen is a hassle, and to make things worse the city has enacted a blatantly allegorical tax on half-breed dogs. After Hagen makes a nuisance of himself, the father kicks the cur to the curb in a fit of pique.

So far the film has been a drama, but with this development it begins shifting genres. For a while as we follow Hagen’s adventures in the alone in the big city, meeting other strays and evading dogcatchers, it seems like this will be a live action lost pet family flick a la Benji. Things turn far darker and distinctly un-Disney, however, as Hagen finds his instinctual trust in the beneficence of humans is unwarranted. The scenes of animal cruelty that follow, while clearly simulated and intended as social criticism, will make this film all but unwatchable for some animal lovers. Interspersed with Hagen’s journeys are the parallel adventures of Lili, who continues to search for her beloved pet but also starts to take an interest in boys. Things take a stranger turn when Hagen escapes captivity and organizes a pack of feral strays into a force for vengeance against his human oppressors; the movie becomes a canine version of The Birds, with dogs running through the streets, slamming themselves into car windows as women scream, trapped in their vehicles.

To its credit, White God handles these multiple shifts in tone and genre well, and wears its absurd premise lightly. And yet, the movie is not entirely successful, mainly because its human characters aren’t as interesting or impressive as its animals. Although the core story of a girl’s love for her dog is inherently moving, the scenes of Lili alone are not warranted as anything other than a break from the tension of poor Hagen’s abuse at human hands. White God spends too much time with its people; but what you will remember about it is the hundreds of dogs rampaging through the streets of Budapest, a feat of practical animal choreography that has never been attempted on this scale before. It’s no wonder that the DVD’s extra features treat chief animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller with almost as much reverence as director Mundruczó; if there were an Academy Award for best animal stunts, White God would be a shoo-in.

The title “White God” is somewhat mysterious. It evokes ‘s 1982 flop White Dog, a moral allegory about the deprogramming of an albino German Shepherd trained by white supremacists to attack blacks. Just as the letters in the two title nouns are transposed, the plot arc here is the mirror image of Fuller’s film: God‘s canine progresses from domesticated to vicious. The title also refers to the way dogs look at humans as godlike beings, and, furthermore, to the old European ideal of “whiteness” as representing genetic purity and perfection. I have no idea whether these meanings come across in the Hungarian title “Fehér isten,” or whether that title includes its own untranslated puns or wordplay, although this information is as unnecessary to appreciating the film as is understanding the specific Hungarian political references Mundruczó may be making here.

White God won the “Un Certain Regard” prize (given to “original and different” movies) at Cannes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

White God is a strange beast. Director Kornel Mundruczo has created a beautiful and bizarre film that veers between gritty realism and haunting fantasy…”–Lucy Barrick, Radio Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Brad,” who called it “not the strangest film ever, but definitely something to take a look at.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: 1 (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Pater Sparrow

FEATURING: Zoltán Mucsi, László Sinkó, Vica Kerekes, Pál Mácsai

PLOT: When all the rare books in a bookstore are mysteriously replaced by an anonymous book titled “1,” the “Reality Defense Council” steps in to investigate.

Still from 1 (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: 1 aggressively aligns itself with the irrational by making a fascistic institution dedicated to the defense of reality into its chief villain. It’s a professionally made little sleeper of a movie with some outrageously bold and inventive ideas; it would fit comfortably alongside other candidates on the List. Better visibility would help its case.

COMMENTS: 1 is a partial adaptation of the short story “One Human Minute” by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote the novel on which Solaris was based). The story was a fictional review of a fictional book that purported to describe, in voluminous statistical tables, all of human activity that occurs on Earth during one minute’s time (including, for example, the suicide totals, subdivided into the number of hangings, gunshots, and so forth, reports on gallons of blood spilled and sperm ejaculated, etc.). The original story may seem like an insanely ambitious project, but, although 1 quotes extensively from “One Human Minute” and illustrates Lem’s sardonic prose with extensive stock footage montages, the film takes the idea merely as its launching pad. 1, the movie, posits that “1,” the book described by Lem, has been published by some godlike force, and that it has a mystical power to drive men mad. The book appears in a rare bookstore one day, replacing every other volume on the shelf. The store is locked down by a detective and the four people who were present during the event—the wealthy owner, the beautiful clerk, a mute janitor, and an elderly customer who is a “citizen of the Vatican”—are sequestered for questioning. Eventually a copy of “1” finds its way into the streets and is uploaded to the Internet. Those who read the book riot. Meanwhile, the quartet of suspects is whisked away to a government installation/dolphin habitat run by the Reality Defense Institute, where they are drugged and interrogated. Then pears start showing up everywhere. Then things get a little weird. 1 covers a lot of ground: formally, it’s a dark and dystopian parody of a police procedural with surrealist touches, and the original novella’s warning about humanity being swallowed up by statistics is still there. But more than anything 1 seems to be about the notion that reality is subjective, taking the idea that we can do whatever we can imagine to literal extremes. To me, that’s not that inspiring or original of a philosophical concept; then again, so few movies have any ideas at all that it hardly seems fair to criticize 1 for having a weak one. What really matters isn’t the novelty of the idea but of the execution, and here 1 is a winner: it’s constantly fresh, surprising and amusing. It’s clever to see reality grilling imagination in an interrogation room. It’s bizarre when a government agent tears down a poster of a pear, but doesn’t notice that by doing so he has just revealed a real pear hidden in a recess of the wall. The entire notion of a government-sponsored “Reality Defense Institute” dedicated to investigating and prosecuting offenses against reality is a beautiful mockery. 1 is baffling, but its surprises are almost always rewarding. It’s 1, weird movie.

Perhaps ironically, 1 is not available on DVD (or any other format) in Region 1. There is a Spanish Region 2 DVD out there somewhere. According to director Sparrow, “…the main production house, Honeymood Films, for reasons unfamiliar to me stayed aloof from the dvd release… since the distributional rights belong to them, the only thing that I can do is to accept the fact that my first feature will not be officially released on dvd.” This being the digital age, 1 can still be seen by those with rudimentary Google skills (with the director’s blessing). Sparrow has moved on and is currently working on a second feature, Heartsnatcher, an adaptation of a Boris Vian novel.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Reminiscent of the works of Peter Greenaway (especially 1980’s The Falls) in its vast referential breadth, its mannered blurring of fact and fiction, and the beauty of its tableau-like images, this fever dream of a film conjures up the ineffable presence of God alongside the whiff of dog turd, and defies viewers to determine for themselves both what’s what and what it’s all about.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “tranqilo.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)